You’re in! You’ve accepted! How do you make the most of your next two years?

Johnson Admissions Ambassadors
Johnson Admission Ambassadors welcome new students

By Mukul Aggarwal, Two-Year MBA ’19

If you’ve made your decision to join the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management for your MBA…congratulations! It was certainly the best decision I made two years ago. The time leading up to the start of the MBA program is full of excitement, anxiety, and questions. Therefore, below are my recommendations on how to best navigate the two-year program at Johnson.

Prior to starting your MBA at Johnson

Before you begin your MBA journey, I recommend that you take time off to be with friends and family and start connecting with your Johnson classmates. Quit your job, or whatever it is you are doing, as early as you possibly can. Based on my experience, you will never have this kind of leisure time once you start the MBA program. Taking time off will ensure you come to school relaxed and mentally fresh.

At this point, you do not need to worry about academics, unless there are specific skills you would like to brush up on. Do, however, complete the accounting pre-work or math boot camp that Johnson assigns you. I completed the accounting pre-work, as I did not have any formal training in accounting, and it helped me prepare for the core accounting class, which you will take in the fall.

You also do not need to dive into recruiting, as long as you plan to enter a traditional career path such as banking, consulting, or marketing. Recruiters in these fields will come to campus during the year. If you are looking at non-traditional career paths, though, there are a few things you could do to get the recruiting process started. I attended the Poets and Quants pre-MBA Networking Festival, which allowed me to start connecting with professionals who were not going to recruit on-campus. A few of my classmates got internship offers through the conference in non-traditional fields.

Johnson students at networking festival
The Poets & Quants pre-MBA Networking Festival in 2017

One area I do recommend focusing on before you arrive is connecting with your incoming classmates. One way to do so is through social media platforms such as the Slack channel or GroupMe chat. I joined the GroupMe chat for my class, and it allowed me to start getting to know my classmates early. I was also able to get their thoughts on topics such as where to live in Ithaca, how and what classes to register for, and pre-MBA trips, which helped ease my transition to Johnson.

Another great way to get to know classmates is by attending Destination Johnson (DJ) in April. During DJ 2017, I participated in many classes and recruiting seminars, and I interacted with current students, alumni, faculty, and staff. This made me aware of the different resources available at Johnson, and I used the summer to think through which of those resources could help me once I began my MBA.

First-year focus should be on academics and recruiting

During your first year at Johnson, I recommend that you prioritize academics and recruiting over social/extracurricular activities. During your first semester especially, the main focus should be your classes.

Johnson Outdoor Trek
Students participate in the Johnson Outdoor Experience and a dinner with our core operations professor

Right off the bat, don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. During your first semester, you will complete seven (out of 10) of your core courses. These courses will serve as building blocks for all future courses at Johnson and later throughout your career. Courses move at a fast pace, so if you don’t understand a concept, you’ll want to get help quickly. Extensive help is available in the form of TA and professor office hours, as well as exam reviews, which I often attended.

I also suggest you use set up and get comfortable with using MS Outlook. It will help you to keep track of everything—classes, assignments, exams, review sessions, and more—and quickly become your best friend. The first semester moves very fast, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. You will be doing 7 a.m. quizzes, bi-weekly exams, and weekly team assignments, on top of recruiting and some extracurricular activities. Outlook calendar helped me keep track of everything so I did not miss an important event or activity.

Along with diving into your academics, make recruiting a top priority. In your first four to six weeks, continuously reflect on your short and long-term career goals as you attend various career workshops. Aim to finalize which career path you would like to pursue as early as possible. This ensures that your efforts are focused and, therefore, more efficient.

Students on Colombia MBA Trek
Colombia Cornell MBA Trek 2018

Once you commit to a career path, use all resources available and prepare hard for your interviews. I participated in consulting club curriculum, consulting career work group, and mock interviews, which made me feel prepared to answer any question thrown at me during my interviews.

I recommend de-prioritizing social/extracurricular activities compared to academics and recruiting your first year. The events I did attend were orientation, Johnson Outdoor Experience (J.O.E.), winter and spring formals, Sage Social every Thursday, Johnson Night Out, club mixers, and faculty dinners. This allowed me to remain plugged into the social atmosphere at Johnson and to develop relationships, but did not take too much time away from recruiting.

It can also be worthwhile to participate in Johnson Student Treks. Upon securing a summer internship in early February, my calendar started freeing up, and I joined a trek to Colombia over spring break. I learned about the business landscape in the country, experienced the local culture, and deepened relationships with my classmates.

In can be tempting to join a lot of clubs—there are 50 to choose from. But I would limit participation to no more than five. Some of my classmates joined 10 clubs but soon de-registered from half of them as they could not keep up with the time commitment. I joined the Consulting Club, Big Red Consulting Club, Big Red Tech Strategy , the South Asian Business Club, and Johnson on Tap, a beer club.

Big Red Tech Strategy program
Helping an engineering PhD develop a business plan for her product through the Big Red Tech Strategy program

Second year: Time to slow down and develop soft skills

During your second year at Johnson, I recommend that you prioritize social/extracurricular activities over academics and recruiting (as long you are not re-recruiting) to deepen your friendships and improve your leadership skills. I was finished with full-time recruiting by early October and was able to participate in a lot of wonderful activities, including graduate student mixers, ice hockey games, hack-a-thons, hiking in Ithaca, short day trips, and a trek to South Africa. I met people from other schools at Cornell and strengthened my friendships with those at Johnson. I also improved my leadership skills by holding board positions in several clubs.

Students on South Africa trek
South Africa Cornell MBA Trek 2018

On the academic front, I recommend taking electives in soft-skills development and one or two fields that you would like to specialize in. The most sought-after skills in an MBA student is clear management communication, and I took courses in management presentations, management cases, and management writing. To exhibit expertise in a few areas, I took courses (past the core ones) in strategy and finance.

If you wish to re-recruit in your second year, I recommend starting in early August. I was interested in working with a different employer post-MBA but within the same function (corporate strategy) as my internship. Beginning in early August allowed me to secure my target full-time role successfully.

I wish you all the very best as you begin your MBA journey at Johnson. If you would like to connect with me, please feel free to email me at: mma222@cornell.edu.


About Mukul Aggarwal, Two-Year MBA ’19

Mukul Aggarwai

Mukul Aggarwal is a second-year MBA candidate at Johnson. Before business school, Mukul worked in various engineering roles, including product design, product development, and product quality, for a United States-based automotive engine company. In his last role before starting his MBA, he managed the company’s engine warranty program in the United States, Mexico, China, and India. Mukul earned his BS in mechanical engineering, with a minor in entrepreneurship, from Purdue University.


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